As a child, menswear designer Paria Farzaneh spoke Farsi at home with her family in Hull, and spent her summers in Iran. Amidst global outrage following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in Tehran last month, Farzaneh reflects on the response to this tragic “wake-up call”, her own dual identity, and the dream of a free Iran.
Growing up, we spent our summers in Iran. At home in Hull, we were part of a community of maybe 12 or 13 other Iranian families all in the same area, and we didn’t speak English in the house. When you are so involved with and immersed in another culture, you have this other identity. It’s quite hard to explain, but it’s almost as though you are living two lives, both intertwined.
I’m really thankful that this is the way I grew up. I feel so lucky to have been able to step into this other dimension as a child: the culture, the people, the smells, the food. I was fully immersed in a completely different world. At the time I never really thought about the fact that girls in the West had more freedom than those in Iran. There were maybe one or two instances when I experienced something uncomfortable… but not really. I think I was too infatuated by the beauty and culture. I used to watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch religiously, and the witches in the story had this other realm they visited. That’s almost like what being there used to feel like as a kid. As an adult, of course, I am fully aware. And I am angry.
The protests that we are seeing now in Iran and elsewhere across the world – essentially what this comes down to is someone, whatever their race or ethnicity, not having the right to be them. Being them is not allowed. As Iranians we are really feeling this, and it hurts. In the West, it can feel like these things are happening so far away from us. It’s hard to relate to the Middle East, because it feels like another world. People don’t necessarily choose to become more informed about it, maybe because it’s easier not to be.
The women suffering in Iran are all someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s mother. Their basic rights are being taken away from them. Feel bad for them! We can’t overlook someone being stripped of their basic rights simply because they are not right in front of us. How is it that we can visit New York, Paris or Tokyo, but we can’t visit Tehran? My work is essentially a commentary on the beauty of Iranian culture. To be able to share that on a big scale is the whole reason I do what I do.
Now, the world is awake – and it’s so important that we stay awake. It is insane that it has taken 43 years for the rest of the world to wake up to what is happening in Iran. I feel so devastated about what is happening right now… but it also kind of feels good. When people reach out to me about what’s going on I feel so thankful. We can’t stop talking about this, the time for change is now. We don’t know how long this planet has left for our children or for our children’s children, or whether it’s too late to reverse all the damage we have done as humans. But still, I don’t want to live up to this dark apocalyptic fantasy. We can still make positive progress.
The protests are proof that we are still so strong. There’s nothing stronger than our human connection, the power of coming together for something you believe is right. We don’t know how long this is going to take, but it’s happening, history is unfolding. As Iranians we are feeling something. We have hope.
Originally published in Vogue.co.uk